“Organize” has been #1 on my list of new year’s resolutions for EVER. Well, that’s not exactly true — it vies for top billing with “Exercise Daily.” But in the last few years it’s morphed into “Purge & Organize.” Because I’m a BIT of a hoarder — more about that in a minute — and the last thing I want is for my husband and/or my daughter to end up hating me after I’m gone when tasked with having to figure out what to do with the myriad bits and pieces accumulated over my lifetime. Because I still have notes that were passed to me in school.
Someone else will just have to do my dirty work, someone without a sense of attachment, someone who won’t feel like they’re severing a lifeline to a lifetime.
I don’t know why I started saving — let’s call it that, as “hoarding” sounds nasty and a little nutty — evidence of my past. I’ve long thought these artifacts might come in handy were I to write about my life, but I’m quite sure that thought didn’t occur to me as a teenager. I’m not just talking about photos, letters, certificates, awards, and important documents like — surprise! — adoption papers here, because everyone keeps those, right? But, look, here’s the insert from my first box of Slenderline Kotex along with a pamphlet with the sweet title “You’re a Young Lady Now.” I needed all the help I could get as it took a friend to tell me that I’m also supposed to wear the pad whilst sleeping and, since we’re at it, once dressed my size 28AAA Gro-Bra — optimism at work — should be worn beneath my full-length slip, not the other way around. And here’s a detailed diary description of my first period and how I wore a red plaid dress with red tights “just in case” of an accident. All I needed was a neon sign and I could have been a walking advertisement.
Ah, here’s a slam book circulated to friends and filled in with boring data — favorite color, favorite movie, favorite song, pet peeve, that kind of thing — then a zinger snuck in at the end, secret crush, which of course no one filled in; a hall pass for me and my best friend; a now petrified piece of Dubble Bubble gum complete with a waxy Fleer Funny starring Pud; a bus transfer from a ride down Wilshire to the beach with Billy when we made out most of the way there; and here’s the Marlboro pack stuffed with the mascara-smudged tissue I used to dry my tears when Billy and I broke up for the very last time, and the collection of Jonathan and Milly comic strips by Dalia Kvietys that seemed to detail that relationship to a T. Also, a couple McCall’s patterns (because who knows when those A-line dresses will come back in style yet again), my Seventeen Hairdo Guide, and the impossibly sad and smallish bin filled with evidence of my brother Larry’s life. How can I possibly get rid of that? If I do, won’t it be as if he never existed, essentially erased? As it is, I’m the only one that remembers him, that cares to this day.
Sometimes I think I saved everything so in time I might put the pieces together and figure myself out. Not having much of a sense of self, I was more or less sleepwalking through much of my early life. College? Family planning? The future? I’m still working on it. This is why I write.
But there are also the more “recent” adult accumulations. From the ’70s, the packet of letters my first husband and I exchanged every day while he was doing time and that I “inherited” when he was released, letters that still make me doubt my decision to leave him once he started using again, because he’d written so eloquently about how deeply sorry he was for messing things up, how very much he loved me and our daughter, how determined he was to turn his life around. Right. And from the ’90s: Do I simply throw away the first Valentine my second husband gave me, the ticket stubs from our trips to Savannah, Hawaii, Puerto Vallarta, and St. Martin, our marriage certificate, the plastic bracelet from his last stay in the hospital, the guest book from his memorial?
Okay, so now that I’ve dug out a few of my keepsakes and even written about them, I can throw them away, right? Time to purge and organize! But every time I pick something up with the intention of tossing it, I just can’t go through with it. Back in the plastic bin it goes, the lid snapping shut. Someone else will just have to do my dirty work, someone without a sense of attachment, someone who won’t feel like they’re severing a lifeline to a lifetime. Purge schmurge.
Why do some of us write memoirs even though we’re not famous? Who cares about us? We write to tell others we were here. To show them that we lived an ordinary yet extraordinary life, just like them. To share the little things, the snippets of time and place and things. To offer examples of who, what, and how to be . . . or not to be.
Artist, writer, storyteller, spy. Okay, not a spy…I was just going for the rhythm.
I call myself “an inveterate dabbler.” (And my husband calls me “an invertebrate babbler.”) I just love to create one way or another. My latest passion is telling true stories live, on stage. Because it scares the hell out of me.
As a memoirist, I focus on the undercurrents. Drawing from memory, diaries, notes, letters and photographs, I never ever lie, but I do claim creative license when fleshing out actual events in order to enhance the literary quality, i.e., what I might have been wearing, what might have been on the table, what season it might have been. By virtue of its genre, memoir also adds a patina of introspection and insight that most probably did not exist in real time.